The first part of our name, Golden Griffon, was inspired by thepaintings on Loretta's hammered dulcimer and is intended to conjure up memories ofsimpler times. Stringtet is a combination of string band and quartet,quintet, etc. that we made up because it's memorable, it's elegant and like"String Band" it allows us the flexibility of any number of musicians.For instance, when we play for contra dances, we'll have four or fivemusicians and a caller. Typically, the instruments would be hammered dulcimer,fiddle, flute, guitar and bass. For weddings or Christmas music, there might only be hammereddulcimer accompanied by guitar.
The music we play is generally classified as dance music,meaning square and contra dance tunes. Our repertoire includes traditional jigs,reels, waltzes and airs from Irish, French-Canadian, New England andSouthern/Old Time sources, contemporary dance tunes written in the traditionalstyle and a few contemporary pop melodies that we have corrupted into contradance tunes. We can also play Christmas and religious music when appropriate.
The Golden Griffon Stringtet has been performing since 1992 at cultural and historic events including the Ohio Renaissance Festival, the nationalconvention of Abraham Lincoln Presenters, the 60th National Square Dance Convention, the Windham, New York Civil War Music Heritage Gathering, New Year's Eve celebrations in Ypsilanti, Birmingham and Port Huron, the Ypsilanti Heritage Festival, the Port Huron Thomas Edison Festival, the Northville Victorian Festival Ball, the Clinton Fall Festival, the Henry Ford Community College production of "The Grapes of Wrath," and the Greenfield Village re-dedication of Henry Ford'sbirthplace as well as numerous weddings, receptions, contra dances, Civil War re-enactmentdances, fairs, festivals and community events throughout Michigan andOhio.
The Golden Griffon Stringtet has three recordings oftraditional dance music available, as well as a recording of traditionalChristmas music. Propinquity, our first recording, is available on cassette or CD and features Loretta McKinney playing hammered dulcimer and Jim McKinney playing fiddle and guitar. Our second recording, A Fine Collection, isavailable on cassette or CD and features Loretta playing hammered dulcimer andJim playing fiddle, guitar and bass. Our third recording, also available oncassette or CD is entitled Christmas and has only Loretta playing hammered dulcimer and Jim playing guitar. Our fourth recording features some of the medleysof jigs and reels we use for contra dancing. It is called BandCall and is available only on CD. It is the first recording to showcase the talents of all four members of our band: Loretta on hammered dulcimer, Jim on fiddle andguitar, Renzo Hutchinson on guitar and flute and Bob Ewald on bass. Jim and Loretta have alsoreleased a CD of traditional tunes from the 1800s called Gems of the 19th Century. Jim has released a solo CD of his original compositions called Newfangled Barn Dance.
Loretta has been involved with music almost all of her life. Acknowledged in Who's Who In Music, Loretta retains a teaching certificate in piano and organ, and has received several awards for her performance on the clarinet. She was named the 2000 ABA Traditional Instrumentalist of the Year for hammereddulcimer. She teaches workshops at the Original Dulcimer Players Club Funfestand the North Central Regional Fiddlers Convention. Her attraction to the hammered dulcimer is generated not only by the unique soundand appearance of the instrument, but also the diverse musical styles that ithas the ability to enhance. Loretta began playing the hammered dulcimer in1990, the same year she met Jim, Renzo and Bob. Loretta has been giving private lessons on hammered dulcimer since 1996. She has been teaching old-time dancing since2007.
Jim started playing guitar in 1978 and fiddle in 1987. He also dabbles a bit with the mandolin and bass. Jim has played with The Shakin’ Hammers String Band, with whom he made two cassette recordings, Hit & Miss and Dancing Bear. Jim and Loretta met in 1990 and in 1992 formed The Golden Griffon Stringtet.
Jim has been presenting workshops at festivals since 1997, teaching tunes, ornamentation, harmony and music theory. He has been an instructor at the Original Dulcimer Players Club Funfest, the Midland Folk Music Festival, the North Central Regional Fiddlers Convention and the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. He taught violin and guitar at Eastern Michigan University's Community Music Academy from 2007 to 2012. Jim offers private lessons in his home on fiddle and guitar to students of all ages. He has been teaching old-time dancing since2007.
Read Jim's interview in the January 2014 edition of Celtic Life International magazine.
Read Jim's interview in the October 2013 edition of the Monroe Evening News.
On August 10, 2013, Jim was inducted into the Michigan Fiddlers Association Fiddlers Hall of Fame at the 24th Annual North Central Regional Fiddlers Convention in Hillsdale, Michigan. He is the 30th fiddler to receive that honor since it was first bestowed in 1997.
In July 2012, Jim placed third in the Sauder Village Fiddle Contest. In April 2011, Jim placed third in the 18th Annual Green Parrot Old-Time Fiddlers Contest in Key West, Florida. In August 2008, Jim placed third in the Manchester Riverfolk Music & Arts Festival Fiddle contest. In March 2008, Jim participated in the Advanced Fiddling competition of the National Federation of Music Clubs. He received a "superior", their highest possible rating. Jim took first place in the 2005 Hetzler's Fakebook Fiddle Contest with his performance of Soldier's Joy. Jim has received two seconds, three thirds, one fourth and two sixths in the Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest from 1995 to 2005. He served as Director of the Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest from 2006 through 2015. He was named the 2000 ABA Traditional Instrumentalist of the Year for fiddle.
In 2004, Jim's original composition, The Well Digger's Daughter (mp3) (ABCs) won second place in the Second Annual Nebraska Chapter of the American String Teachers Association Fiddle Tune Composition Contest. In 2005, Jim's original composition, Emptyhead (mp3) (ABCs) won first place honors. In 2006, Jim again won first place with his original composition Perporkin (mp3) (ABCs) In 2007, Jim took third place with his original composition The Lucky Streak (mp3) (ABCs) In 2011, he earned another third place prize in the NEASTA contest with his original composition The Callipygian Lassie (mp3) (ABCs) Also in 2011, Jim's original composition, The Crying Woman (mp3) (ABCs) was selected as one of four winners in the Duquesne University Strings Without Boundaries Composition Contest. More of Jim's original compositions as well as his original short story, Art Bowman and the Demon of Mooreville, can be found on his tune page.
In 2001, Jim and Judy Raber published Come Dance With Me, a biography of old-time Michigan fiddler Les Raber, containing articles, photos and Jim's transcriptions of 119 tunes from Les's repertoire, including Les's original compositions, rare old tunes learned from Les's father and grandfather which had never before been written down and many old favorite fiddle tunes played in Les's unique style. The book is now in its fifth printing (2013) and contains Jim's transcriptions of 182 of Les's tunes.
In 2007, Jim and Judy Raber produced Come Dance With Me...Again! a CD of 43 tunes from Les's unique repertoire.
In 2014, Jim and Edna Johnson published Stewart Carmichael-Michigan Fiddler, a biography of Edna's father, Stewart Carmichael, a Michigan fiddler who was born in 1899 and played for dances in southwest Michigan. The 70 page, spiral-bound book contains Stewart's self-penned biography, his recollection of the origin of the Original Michigan Fiddlers Association, unique family photos, anecdotes from family and friends and Jim's transcriptions of 64 tunes from Stewart's repertoire.
In November 2014, Jim was invited to be a board member of the Michigan Folklore Society, an organization that was founded by University of Michigan professor and folklorist Ivan H. Walton in 1940. Jim accepted the invitation and is currently serving his first term as board member.
In 2016, Jim published Maybe I Will, a biography of Mecosta County fiddler, Clifford Sparks. Clifford was born in 1891 and died in 1985. He played for local events around Mecosta County, led a square dance band and for a time, even ran a dance hall. This 22 page, spiral-bound book contains a brief family history, two photos and Jim's transcriptions of the only surviving tunes from Clifford's repertoire; a total of 15 tunes.
Renzo has experimented with a number of instruments and musical styles sincehis first slide whistle in childhood. He began studies in classical flute in high school, picked up a guitar and sang his way through the folk music of the '60s and '70s then came upon the hammered dulcimer in the '80s. More recently, he discovered old time, traditional dance music from the British Isles, Canada, and the United States, and their contemporary outgrowths. In recent years, he has focused on this musical genre, playing guitar, hammered dulcimer, flute and penny whistle. He has been teaching workshops at the Original Dulcimer Players Club Funfest since 2003. He delights in the ability of this music to bring people together through a common language that transcends occupational, class, and religious distinctions. He was recognized as the 2000 ABA Traditional Instrumentalist of the Year for guitar.
Bob has been making music of one kind or another since the age of 5. Bob's father taught him to play ukulele and guitar and his grandmother taught him harmony and yodeling. From there, Bob expanded his instrumental repertoire to include banjo, mandolin, bass and hammered dulcimer. Besides playing all of those instruments, Bob also collects and restores them. Bob has played with several folk and bluegrass bands over the years including The Wildwood Flower Pickers and Michigan Consolidated Grass Company who once opened for The Statler Brothers. In November 2000, Bob received the ABA award for Traditional Instrumentalist of the Year for bass.
Tommy has been playing fiddle since he was three years old. Tommy participated in the Plymouth Symphony Orchestra's Celebration Youth Orchestra in 2006-2007. In 2006, Tommy won the Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest. Tommy won the instrumental division of Apple Charlie's Talent Contest in 2005, 2006 and 2007. In 2008 and 2009, he placed third in the Manchester Riverfolk Music and Arts Festival Fiddle Contest. Tommy participated in the National Federation of Music Club's Spring Festival in 2008, 2009 and 2010 where he received Superior ratings in the Old-Time Fiddle, Classical Violin and Classical Piano divisions. In April2011, Tommy was awarded first place in the 18th Annual Green Parrot Old-Time Fiddlers Contest in Key West, Florida. In October, 2011, Tommy won the Michigan State Championship Old-TimeFiddlers Contest for the second time; in 2010 and 2012 he placed third, in 2013 and 2014 he placed second. Tommy beganserving as Director of the Michigan State Championship Old-Time Fiddlers Contest in 2016. Tommy also played trumpet and French horn in his high school band.
Denise played keyboard for our contra dance engagements and performed in the groups Just Us Two,Tansy Patch and Floyd King & the Bushwackers.